Visit our foundation to give a gift.
View Locations Near Me
Main Campus – Hartford
Connecticut Children’s – Waterbury
Urgent Care – Farmington
Specialty Care Center – Danbury
Connecticut Children’s Surgery Center at Farmington
Specialty Care Center – Fairfield
Search All Locations
Find a doctor
Find A Doctor
Request an Appointment
Amenities and Services
Who’s Who on Care Team
Getting Ready for Surgery
What to Expect—Picture Stories
Pay a Bill
Understanding the Different Fees
Pricing Transparency and Estimates
Raytheon Technologies Family Resource Center
Family Advisory Council
Legal Advocacy: Benefits, Education, Housing
Electronic Health Records
Share Your Story
Pay a Bill
Login to MyChart
Clinical Support Services Referrals
About the Network
Join the Network
Graduate Medical Education
Continuing Medical Education
MOC/Practice Quality Improvement
Educating Practices in the Community (EPIC)
Learning & Performance
Meet our Physician Relations Team
Request Medical Records
Join our Referring Provider Advisory Board
View our Physician Callback Standards
Read & Subscribe to Medical News
Register for Email Updates
Update Your Practice Information
Refer a Patient
Find and Print Health Info
Health Information For Teens
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common intestinal disorder that affects the colon (the large intestine). The colon’s main job is to absorb water and nutrients from partially digested food. Anything that is not absorbed is slowly moved through the colon toward the rectum and out of the body as waste in the form of feces (poop).
Muscles in the colon work to get rid of the body’s waste products. They contract and relax as they push the undigested food through the large intestine. These muscles also work with other muscles to push the waste out of the anus.
If the muscles in the colon don’t work at the right speed for proper digestion or if the coordination with muscles in the rectum or pelvis is interrupted, the contents of the colon can’t move along smoothly. When this happens, a person can feel the belly cramps, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea that may be signs of IBS.
A lot of teens have IBS. It’s estimated that between 6% and 14% of all teens have IBS symptoms. It seems to affect more girls than guys.
The good news is that although IBS can be uncomfortable, embarrassing, and even painful, it’s not life threatening. And, unlike other digestive conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease, IBS doesn’t carry a risk of permanent damage to the intestines.
The symptoms of IBS are usually recurring. This means that a person will have bouts of symptoms on an ongoing basis rather than just once or twice a year. People with IBS often notice their symptoms flare up at certain times. For some people, it’s whenever they eat a large meal. For others, it’s when they’re under a lot of pressure or stress. Some girls notice that they get IBS symptoms around the time of their periods.
The main symptom of IBS is belly pain or discomfort (bloating, etc.). Of course, having a stomachache, gas, or bloating once in a while doesn’t mean a person has IBS.
People with IBS have at least two of these symptoms:
Because IBS is a problem with the colon, and the colon removes water from unprocessed food waste, it’s common for people with IBS to be constipated or have diarrhea:
No one knows exactly what causes IBS, although it tends to run in families.
A prior infectious illness (such as gastroenteritis) may increase a person’s risk for IBS. Exposure to a bacterial or viral infection can cause
that can change how the gastrointestinal system works.
Stress can also play a part in IBS. Stress can accelerate your colon and slow your stomach.
Foods can also be a trigger, but this is hard to predict. For example, a high-fat diet may bother some people, but not others. Eating big meals and spicy foods often cause problems, as do drinks with caffeine (coffee or soda), alcohol, milk and milk products, and grains like wheat, barley, or rye. Some of these foods are linked to other digestive conditions like lactose intolerance or celiac disease, though, so it’s important to see a doctor if you think a food is causing digestive problems.
Some medicines, like
, can trigger IBS symptoms in people who have the disorder.
There is no specific test to diagnose IBS. Doctors usually diagnose it based on a physical exam and a patient’s symptoms. For example, if someone has had belly pain for more than 12 weeks out of the previous year (not necessarily 12 weeks in a row), it’s a sign to a doctor that IBS may be a possibility.
A doctor will probably ask how often you have stomach or gas pain, whether you’re ever constipated or have diarrhea, and if so, how long these problems last. He or she may ask questions about your bathroom habits, such as whether your bowel movements are regular, what your stools look like, and whether you ever feel like you need to have a bowel movement but then can’t.
It may feel embarrassing or even silly to answer these questions, but learning as much as possible about your symptoms will help the doctor diagnose what’s going on.
Besides doing an exam, the doctor will ask you about any concerns and symptoms you have, your past health, your family’s health, any medicines you’re taking, any allergies you may have, and other issues. This is called the
. You may need to ask a parent or other adult for some information.
Although there’s no test for IBS, a doctor may send a patient for tests to make sure the symptoms aren’t being caused by other problems.
There’s no cure for IBS. But there are ways to take control of IBS symptoms. Here are some of the things that doctors recommend:
Also try eating regular meals, avoiding on-the-run eating, and paying attention to good nutrition.
Be sure to get enough sleep and exercise. Your doctor might recommend some stress-reduction techniques, like breathing exercises. Research also shows that hypnotherapy may help in managing IBS.
Your doctor will have suggestions on what might work for you. You also can keep a food diary so you can see if some foods and events seem to trigger your IBS symptoms. Record what you eat, what symptoms you have, and when they happen.
If you’re living with IBS, you may worry about anything that could trigger symptoms — even otherwise fun events like playing in a championship game or going out for a fancy dinner before the prom.
Learning more about IBS and what triggers your symptoms is the first step to taking action. Then, do what you need to take care of yourself, whether that’s reducing stress by talking over problems with a school counselor or therapist, or watching out for spicy food.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease doesn’t just affect old people who eat too much while watching TV. Active, healthy teens can have GERD too.
If you have lactose intolerance, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans have the condition. Check out these tips on dealing with lactose intolerance.
Inflammatory bowel disease is an ongoing illness caused by an inflammation of the intestines. There are two kinds of IBD: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Doctors once thought that stress, spicy foods, and alcohol caused most stomach ulcers. But ulcers are actually caused by a particular bacterial infection, by certain medications, or from smoking. Read all about ulcers.
Most people think digestion begins when you first put food in your mouth. But the digestive process actually starts even before the food hits your taste buds.
We all know the importance of eating well. But how are you supposed to do so when your schedule is so demanding you’re never at home? Find out how to make healthy food choices on the go.
Constipation is a very common problem that usually happens because a person’s diet doesn’t include enough fluids and fiber. In most cases, making simple changes can help you feel better.
People who have celiac disease, a disorder that makes their bodies react to gluten, can’t eat certain kinds of foods. Find out more – including what foods are safe and where to find them.
Nearly everybody gets diarrhea every once in a while, and it’s usually caused by gastrointestinal infections. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Read this article to learn more.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2020 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved.
Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.